This is the last day of my week-long fasting and prayer for marriages. The Lord has put these specific requests and prayers on my heart, and I have learned a great deal from being obedient to His calling to me. … Continue reading
Last week I spent some time going over the rules or conditions of prayer. These five rules were not my own, they were found explicitly in the Word of God. If you remember, I used quite a few different books of the Bible to demonstrate God’s instructions about prayer.
This week, for Part II of our Prayer Makeover, I want to go into the process of prayer, and we will only be looking at one book of the Bible. So, (clears throat) please turn your books to Matthew 6, verses 5 to 8. You can go ahead and bookmark the page, because we’re going to be here for a bit…
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
Here Jesus tells us a few things about how we should pray…. Well, first, He actually tells us how not to pray. We can’t be doing it out in the open for all to see. Now, does this mean we can’t pray out loud before a meal with our family? Does this mean that we shouldn’t pray in our small groups and group bible studies and prayer meetings with friends? Not necessarily.
See, the hypocrites that Jesus is talking about used to get all dressed up to go out on the street corner and shout out prayers that they could have just said at home in their pajamas. But they didn’t do it to talk (much less listen) to God. They did it so that other people would look at them and think, “Oh, look at that holy person! How faithful they are! They are so righteous! I love they way they pray!”
This is why Jesus says that these people have already received their reward. They get credit for their prayers from the people that hear them (the people that the prayers are actually for). These prayers are not for God, so God does not give them a reward in heaven for their windy, wordy, empty prayers.
Jesus warns us to not be like those people, who keep babbling, thinking that they will be heard because they keep on talking and talking and talking. When they do this, Jesus, implies, their words loose meaning, but they also insult God in the process; they are treating Him as if He doesn’t already know what they need! Our God knows everything! He knows what each and every one of us needs better than even we do!
Now, back then, as I said, these people would go out to the town square to shout prayers to the Lord. Today’s equivalent might be praising the Lord in a Facebook status, or tweeting Bible verses. It all depends on the intent. If the intent is that you really truly think God is checking his newsfeed on “the Book of Faces” (as my husband so cleverly calls it), and so you want to let him know you’re a “fan” of His, then fine! But most of the time we post and tweet those things to make sure other people see them, not to make sure God sees them …. and honestly, I’m guilty of this too… so let’s all work on this one!
I remember being in a college prayer group when I first got saved. Each time we got together, we would talk about the Word and how it was working in our lives, then we would ask for prayer requests. After that, we would do what I like to call “Popcorn-Prayer” (this is the teacher side of me coming out!). One person would start praying, then after they had finished, another person with pick it up and pray as well, and then, after some silence, another person would pray… and so on and so forth until the last person prayed and we all would say, “In Jesus’ Name, Amen!”.
I would sit there with my eyes shut, not really listening to the others, but instead I would be rehearsing my prayer! I would think about what things to say and how to phrase things, and I would review the prayer request.
Now, to be honest, I don’t think I did this in order to be praised on Earth for my holiness or beautiful prayers. I think I was actually nervous about praying in front of other people because I was a new Christian, and I really didn’t know how to pray!
Luckily Jesus actually tells us how to do that too…
He tells us to go to our room, close the door, fall to our knees, and pray in secret. This way, our prayers are only for Him and Him alone. We are not doing it for show and our reward will be saved for us in heaven rather than being wasted here on Earth with compliments from others.
So, now we have some general guidelines about how to pray, and we have Jesus’ direct words about how not to pray. What do we do now?
- Take instruction from Jesus and go in your room and talk to God, listen to Him too!
- Keep a prayer journal that you can revisit throughout the day. Write about what you’re thankful for. Write about what you’re sorry for. Write about what you need or what you know others really need. Write about how incredible God is. Write about the questions you have for God.
- Read the Word and speak the Word. God loves to hear His Word repeated back to Him, that’s why Jesus always quotes scripture. Read the Word, memorize verses, and speak them aloud in your private prayers. God will surely speak to you through them to give them new meaning and application to your own life.
- Work to see God everywhere! When you are constantly aware of God’s presence, it’s much easier to speak to Him and listen to Him throughout the day. You won’t have to routinely rattle off a prayer during your lunch break at work just to fit your prayer time in if you are constantly communicating with God, whether silently or aloud. And remember, communication is a two-way street!
Next post, we will still be in Matthew 6, so keep that bookmark in your Bible or internet browser! We will take our prayer time to the next level with the “model prayer”…
See you soon Saints!
“I’m going to shake the dust off this crummy old town and I’m going to see the world.” –It’s a Wonderful Life
When my husband and I first started dating, he took me to a Slam Poetry event in Chicago and we saw a wonderful poet named Anis Mojgani perform. One of my favorites that he performed was a piece entitled Shake the Dust.
I recently ran across this poem and after reading it again don’t think I liked it then for the same reasons I like it so much now.
Back then, I thought it was a poem for the reject, the neglected, the hopeless, and the down-trodden, encouraging and inspiring the lowly to be heard. But back then I did not connect it with what Jesus tells his apostles in Matthew 10:14:
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.
Anis isn’t the only one who borrowed this phrase to describe a need to be listened to and recognized, even as an imperfect and ignored human being.
“Shake the Dust” is a feature documentary by Adam Sjöberg that tells the stories of break-dancers in struggling communities around the globe. Although separated by cultural boundaries and individual struggles, these communities are intrinsically tied to one another through their passion for hip-hop culture and the freedom to express themselves.
(If you have time to watch the video in the above link, I highly recommend you do so)
And now for some more Bible-talk!
In Acts 18:5-8, the apostle Paul and his traveling church are all in Corinth, and he initially spends his time preaching to the Jews. Unfortunately they don’t listen and are unwelcoming (to say the least). So Paul shakes out his clothes in protest and says, essentially, “Fine! If you’re not interested, from now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
And so he does, and the Word is heard.
This is a story about what to do with “difficult soil,” and oddly enough we find out that it’s not to keep on keeping-on. It’s to high-tail it outta there. This story also highlights a principle of fruitfulness in disciple-making and gospel ministry.
Essentially the message is: Cast seed widely, but concentrate your efforts where the harvest is ripe. If the harvest isn’t ripe, move on.
Everyone remembers the parable of the “Good Soil” right? Well, it’s in Matthew 13, if you need to review.
Here’s how Jesus explains it:
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Paul, unlike many Christians now-a-days, did not waste his time with rocky ground, or weedy soil. He spread his seeds wide and waited to see where they would come up strong and healthy; he waited to see where the good soil was, then he spent his time here.
Many Christians can get caught up in staying persistent with people who just aren’t producing fruit, and that makes it difficult for them to produce fruit. Jesus tells us not to “cast our pearls to swine”, meaning we cannot afford to waste our words or time with people who will not welcome it or hear it.
Sometimes it’s hard, and it almost sounds crass and mean, but Jesus makes it quite clear what the cost of his discipleship is, and it is far from easy to be a follower of Christ:
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. 40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Matthew 10:34-40
Jesus rebukes people and tells us we have to do the same. We have to learn when to Shake the Dust and move on to people who are worth our time.
So what does all of this have to do with Anis and the brake-dancers I mentioned earlier?
My guess is that these artists were greatly inspired by the idea of leaving and going elsewhere if you are not being accepted and listened to where you are or with what you are doing. Anis’s poem encourages the lowly that they are loved above the rest, just like Jesus’s message! And Adam’s documentary helps tell the story of underprivileged children who find their voice through hip-hop, never letting their struggles get in the way of their expression, but rather, allowing them to fuel their talents and strength. Jesus tells us to deliver our own message in a way which others will hear it too (ie: putting it in good soil rather than bad). He also tells us to expect trials of great pain when spreading his Word.
If your message is falling on deaf ears, stop talking to those ears!
If you are not welcome where you are with your Spirit-inspired words, get outta there!
Jesus promises that there will be people who hate you because you love Him. (Matthew 10:16-21) So get used to shaking that dust and never letting it get you down or stop you on your mission.
What truth do you find in Jesus’s promise of pitting brother against brother and added persecution? In what ways have you shaken the dust from your feet and left someone or something hard to leave? Is it mean-spirited to think that some people are so-called “lost causes”?
What do you think?